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Confidence in the Secretary of State for Transport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:09 pm on 19th June 2018.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport 2:09 pm, 19th June 2018

My right hon. Friend makes an important point—indeed, the shadow Secretary of State said the same. We will not go through with a timetable change in December that is not deliverable. A lot of working is being done right now to see what can and cannot be done. These problems cannot and will not be allowed to happen again. We also have new leadership at Network Rail. Andrew Haines, its new chief executive, stewarded the last major timetable change on the south-western network a decade ago, which went very smoothly. Andrew will be personally responsible for ensuring that any timetable change is deliverable.

I turn now to what happens next. We have seen some stabilisation on the Northern franchise, but I have yet to see any sign that GTR is getting to grips with the issue, so I have commissioned a formal review of the franchise to establish whether it has met and continues to meet its contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of the May timetable, including by ensuring sufficient capability and competence inside the group, and—importantly—to ensure that the owning groups invest sufficiently to minimise further disruption.

My main objective is to ensure there is a plan that I can have confidence in going forward. The review will inform my decisions about how to best use my enforcement powers and the next steps I can take with the owners of the franchise if they are found to be in breach of their obligations. Northern is a matter of ongoing discussion at the Transport for the North board. It has made progress, but not enough, and that is being closely monitored indeed.

The one thing on which I agree with the shadow Secretary of State is the need to put passengers first, and there are two areas where we have to work on that. I encourage all sections of the industry, including the trade unions, to put passengers first. Railway workers across the country are dedicated to providing a high level of service for their passengers and have been on the frontline facing the anger of passengers affected by the timetable disruption, and I am sorry they have had to experience that. I encourage trade union leaders to support their efforts and those of this industry to sort things out for passengers. It is a matter of great disappointment to me that the RMT has again today gone on strike on Northern at a time when the whole industry needs to work together to get the timetable back into shape.

The union makes spurious claims about safety, but trains have operated like this in the UK for more than 30 years. The London underground uses this system, as do trains around the network, and no one at Northern is losing their job or any pay. These changes will modernise the railway in the north and deliver better services for passengers and were signed up to by all the members of the partnership managing that franchise in the north. It is worth adding that on the Southern network, ASLEF, the train drivers union, reached a perfectly sensible agreement that should point the way forward. It is particularly disappointing, therefore, to see the Opposition acting effectively as a mouthpiece for a trade union that regards a Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn as too right wing to affiliate to. I urge him and his colleagues to urge his union supporters to back down from this dispute, stop calling strikes at a time of disruption on Northern and work together to sort out these problems.

I am clear that passengers on these lines have been severely affected by these issues and need to receive additional compensation. My Department is working closely with the TfN board, Network Rail, train operators and stakeholders to introduce the right compensation scheme as soon as possible. It will be funded by the industry. The Rail Minister has already recommended to the board that passengers who buy weekly, monthly or annual tickets on affected Northern and TPE routes will be eligible to claim up to four weeks’ compensation. As part of the scheme, the industry will provide financial support to TfN to deal with other costs that have arisen from the disruption, including on the Lakes line. There will also be a marketing campaign to encourage people to travel by train in the affected areas. I expect the TfN board to confirm the final details of the compensation scheme come its next meeting on 28 June and payments to begin in early July. I will confirm the full details of the compensation package for Thameslink and Great Northern customers on the affected routes at the same time. This will follow approximately the same approach as that on the Southern network. Because of the numbers of people involved, it will take a little longer to begin compensation payments, but I have told GTR that these need to begin before the end of July. Finally, we are considering options to further support the northern economy, and we expect Northern to fund a marketing campaign encouraging travel to affected areas by train when it resumes full operations, particularly on the Lakes line.

Political points scoring does not help passengers. We have seen that today. We need to work to deliver the best outcome for passengers and to improve services urgently. That is what I am focused on, what my Department is focused on and what the Government are focused on.